ASHLAND — The following is respectfully submitted for publication from the below mentioned members of the Ashland Public Safety Building Committee:
In November of 2018, the Town of Ashland has an unprecedented opportunity to address decades-old deficiencies in its public safety facilities, create two opportunities for redevelopment in downtown, and by acting now can save $26.5 million out of a total $30 million project.
Multiple studies since the year 2000 have confirmed what our own first responders have made clear; the current police station and fire stations have reached the end of their service life. The nearly 100-year-old Main Street fire station was built for horses and early steam engines, and many fire trucks simply don’t fit inside. The police station lacks proper facilities for female police officers; women have to shower and change in a trailer adjacent to the station. Neither station has proper office space and the police and fire leadership has to lease office space at a significant cost to the town.
The total cost of the public safety building project has been estimated by at $30 million. However, between a combination of land that has been donated to the town and a limited opportunity to secure a $25 million state grant to Ashland, we have reduced the projected taxpayer burden to only $3.5 million total for a joint police/fire public safety complex. We have also determined that the town will save approximately $1.2 million in reduced utility and leasehold costs over the life of the finance period, further expanding the fiscal prudence of making this investment now.
The donated piece of property on Union Street, valued at $1.5 million, has been identified by public safety professionals as the ideal location for a new public safety facility. Its central location will ensure the best response times from police and firefighters. The land is also the proper size for the entire public safety project with ample parking.
Why ask taxpayers for anything? Isn’t $25 million and the donated land enough? Yes. The $25 million covers the construction of the facility, but the state funds cannot be used for design/architectural drawings and engineering work that must be done on any construction site. We are mindful of going to taxpayers for anything above and beyond their current taxes, but the Public Safety Building Committee believe that the plan put forward to the town’s voters is Ashland’s best chance for a new, modern, efficient, and cost-effective public safety complex.
The timing is also fortunate, as significant debt will be coming “off the books” in Ashland, further reducing the impact on tax bills. In fact, the town projects that even with the new public safety complex, the debt exclusion portion of property tax bills will be lower five years from now than it is today.
The new facility will also open up prime downtown real estate for revitalization and development. A restaurant or mixed-use facility could be visualized for the current fire station. The current police station could be turned into commercial building or be used to increase parking inventory downtown.
The debt exclusion vote is Nov. 6 (the general election/election day) and Town Meeting is Nov. 28. Although the ballot question does not contain a dollar figure, the warrant article at Town Meeting limits the debt exclusion to $3.5 million. We encourage all residents to read and understand the work of the Public Safety Building Committee and to feel free to ask questions. You are also welcome to stop by the police and fire stations anytime. Thank you and for more information, please visit ashlandpublicsafetyproject.org.
Ashland Public Safety Building Committee
Joe Magnani (Chair), Brett Walker (Vice Chair), Peter Chisolm (Clerk), Michael Herbert, Jennifer Ball, Craig W. Davis, Keith Robie, Steve Mitchell, Joe Richardson, Paul Carpenter